Horse Training for Flexibility, Part 2
Keeping your horse on a correct arc can work wonders for his flexibility.
By AQHA Professional Horseman Al Dunning in The American Quarter Horse Journal | November 16, 2014
In Part 1 of this series, we discussed the anatomy of getting a correct bend. Now, let’s move on to keeping your horse on a correct arc.
The real key to a perfect circle is maintaining that bend. You don’t want an egg-shaped circle or a circle like a flat tire, but one that is truly round.
Don’t make your circle so tight that you have a lot of arc on your horse, but just a slight arc. You can accomplish that at the walk and the jog. As your horse becomes more flexible, your circle can become smaller.
When you go to the lope in this perfect circle, it has to become larger or you’re going to wrestle your horse so much you irritate him to the point where he resents you and what you’re asking him to do. I always like to start larger and then bring it down smaller as I train the horse to maintain that arc.
When you work on bending your horse into circles, find something to use as a focal point at the center of the circle. It can be a bush, tree, barrel, cone or even a clod of dirt in the arena. You want to make an equal circle around all sides of that marker.
Don’t constantly look at your focal point, though. I tell people to glance to the inside but look forward over the horse’s head; glance, but look forward.
For more training techniques, check out AQHA’s Horse Training Fundamentals report. AQHA Professional Horseman Ken McNabb shares his basic techniques for horses of all ages and disciplines.
If you always look to the inside, your horse, your hands and your body will follow your eyes and throw the horse off. You have to know where you are by glancing at that focal point but concentrating on going forward.
You can use cones to help you learn to see your circles. Let’s say your arena is 100 by 200 feet. You can make one exact 100-foot circle at one end. Put a cone in the center of the arena; put a second cone one-quarter of the way around the circle, against the fence; a third cone halfway around the circle, against the fence; and one more cone three-quarters around the circle, again against the fence.
When I teach, I call those “bases.” Home base is the cone at the center of the arena; first base is the cone one-quarter of the way around the circle, second base is at halfway around the circle, third base is three-quarters around the circle.
That will help you feel the arena size and learn how to aim for the bases so that all sides are equal, (maintaining the same arc in between each base).
You can adjust those cones for any size circle you want to make, and travel either inside the cones or outside them.
Eventually, you’ll get to the point where you can take the cones away, maintain your horse’s bend and make a continuous, perfect circle.
To maintain forward motion in your circle, keep using your legs and think “forward.” Looking up helps a lot. When people look down, they forget where they are going.
Teaching Bending With a Neck Rein
When you lay the rein on the horse to neck rein, a lot of horses give because the neck rein pressure pulls to the outside. If you’re turning to the right it pulls on the left side of the bit a little.
But when you lay the rein on the neck, you want the horse to move away from that pressure and look to the inside.
Bending is just one of the many fundamentals your horse should know. Let Ken McNabb share more basic training techniques with you by downloading AQHA’s Horse Training Fundamentals report today.
If a horse isn’t trained to move away from the neck pressure (or look to the inside when touched on the outside with the neck rein) then he has a lack of bend and a lack of response. His head will drag behind him, and his shoulder will go first, and he won’t step across properly to make a correct turn.
To teach the horse how to move into the circle, you lay the outside rein on the horse's neck and use inside leg to push the hip to the outside of the circle. That teaches the neck to go to the inside of the circle in response to the slight rein pressure.
Then, if you need reinforcement, you slightly pick up on your inside rein to bend the horse around.
Working on Stiffness
When the horse is what we call “stiff,” he doesn’t make his body concave into the circle. We spend some time, then, using our inside leg and our inside rein, bending the horse and teaching that horse to arc his body.
In those cases, we spend a lot of time just using our legs on the horse, riding him forward, bending him to the right, bending him to the left, backing him up and rocking our hands. You move the horse around one way and use your inside leg, and you move the horse around the other way. Then you ride the horse forward with your legs and rock the reins until the horse gives its face.
Never be firm with your hands! Have some movement and feel with your hands so that the horse learns to give, not resist.
When the horse finally responds to the inside rein and leg, turns to the inside and follows its head, then we can use a little outside leg for impulsion at that time, and he will still stay in the correct arc.